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MEX OF MATHEMATICS
boy. The infliction of pain or suffering on beast or man he would
not tolerate. All his life Hamilton loved animals and, what is
regrettably rarer, respected them as equals.
Hamilton's redemption from senseless devotion to useless
languages began when he was twelve and was completed before
he was fourteen. The humble instrument selected by Providence
to turn Hamilton from the path of error was the American
calculating boy, Zerah Colburn (1804-39), who at the time had
been attending Westminster School in London. Colburn and
Hamilton were brought together in the expectation that the
young Irish genius would be able to penetrate the secret of the
American's methods, which Colburn himself did not fully
understand fas was seen in the chapter on Fermat). Colburn
was entirely frank in exposing his tricks to Hamilton3 who in
his turn improved upon what he had been shown. There was
but little abstruse or remarkable about Colburn's methods. His
feats were largely a matter of memory. Hamilton's, acknow-
ledgement of Colburn's influence occurs in a letter written when
he was seventeen (August 1822) to his cousin Arthur.
By the age of seventeen Hamilton had mastered mathe-
matics through the integral calculus and had acquired enough
mathematical astronomy to be able to calculate eclipses. He
read Newton and Lagrange. All this was his recreation; the
classics were still his serious study, although only a second love.
What is more important, he had already made 'some curious
discoveries', as he wrote to his sister Eliza.
The discoveries to which Hamilton refers are probably the
genus of his first great work, that on systems of rays in optics.
Thus in his seventeenth year Hamilton had already begun his
career of fundamental discovery. Before this he had brought
himself to the attention of Dr Brink! cy, Professor of Astronomy
at Dublin, by the detection of an error in Laplace's attempted
proof of the parallelogram of forces.
Hamilton never attended any school before going to the Uni-
versity but received all his preliminary training from his uncle
and by private study. His forced devotion to the classics in
preparation for the entrance examinations to Trinity College>
Dublin, did not absorb all of his time, for on 31 May 1823, he